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learning

The Things My Children Teach Me

At the risk of revealing too much of my crunchy side, one of the things you should know about me is that I believe people come into our lives for a reason. In fact, the lyrics of the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” say it best:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return

When I think of some of the most significant people in my life, I can often guess what it is they have come into my life to teach me.

And even though our society doesn’t typically emphasize children as “teachers”, some of the biggest lessons of my life have come through my children.

My oldest is teaching me about authenticity and strength. At the time she was born, I was in a marriage that wasn’t healthy for either of us. But I stayed because it was what other people told me was the right thing to do. After she came along, I started thinking like a mother. I wanted to give her the world. I wanted her to be happy. Most of all, I wanted her to be herself. I didn’t want to change her, I wanted to discover her. Because I could see from the beginning that she was perfect exactly the way she was.

But how could I teach this tiny human to be true to herself if I wasn’t living that example?

It wasn’t an easy decision. And even after I finally decided it was, in fact, the right decision, it wasn’t easy to follow through with it. But I did. Because I wanted better for her. I didn’t ever want her to be unhappy because of someone else’s opinion about her life. I wanted her to learn to live a life that felt authentic to her, even if it didn’t align with the opinions of those around her. Wanting that for her gave me the strength to finally live my own life that way.

Now I am constantly striving to see and honor my children for the people they are without trying to turn them into what I (or society) thinks they should be. It’s a lesson I will be learning for the rest of my life.

My middle child is teaching me about love. Obviously all of my children have each taught me something about love. The middle child just has a certain unique way of stretching my heart in ways it hasn’t been stretched before.

I still remember the moment in the delivery room, the first time I laid eyes on her. It felt like gravity shifted beneath me. I was head over heels for her from the very beginning. Even through her challenging toddler behavior, I’m still mesmerized by her. The color of her eyes. The curls in her hair. Her fingers, her toes. I cherish every inch of this child for the miracle she is. She reminds me daily to slow down and notice these sacred moments with all my children. She reminds me not to take milestones for granted. She opens my heart in ways I didn’t even know I needed. She makes me a better mother, not just for her but for all my children.

And some day she will teach me about loving and letting go. Perhaps it is because my oldest always went to daycare, so I was used to her having her own independence, and my middle is the first child I’ve stayed home with for her entire life. But I dread the days of being away from her. I dread her starting preschool and school. I don’t remember life without her by my side. But being her mother means it is up to me to help her learn how to be without me. So I will do what I need to for her, no matter how much it hurts.

Love is complicated like that. But that’s what she is here to help me learn.

My youngest baby is teaching me about humility. She’s showing me that I know less now, as I’m raising my third child, than I did when I started. She’s showing me that this parenting thing isn’t something that has a “right” or a “wrong” way to it. That every child is different and every parent is different with every child and that sometimes just doing the best you can is the best you can do.

She’s teaching me about asking for help. About not being ashamed when I can’t do it all. About not being ashamed to admit (often publicly on my blog) that I can’t do it all.

Humility may not sound like a complicated lesson to learn, but in many ways it is the most complicated of all the lessons I am learning. She’s pushing me to discover my own limitations, and helping me make peace with them. She’s helping me to be more graceful with myself and others. Lessons about love, patience, generosity and respect are all wrapped up in learning about humility. Lessons about peace. For being the smallest of my children, she appears to have brought with her some of the biggest lessons. Which isn’t surprising, considering what I know of her personality so far.

Even though we are still only just beginning this learning journey, the list of things my children have already taught me and will continue to teach me is more than I could ever capture in a simple blog post. And while I know the lessons won’t always come easy, I’m grateful for the privilege of learning.

Because I couldn’t have asked for better teachers.

 

Family Game Night

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It was a long week for this crew. The final weeks of pregnancy are no joke. The kids both battled some sleep disruption that had us all up earlier than usual more than once. By Friday evening, the six year old was showing obvious signs of wear and tear: dragging her feet to go to school all week, crying at the drop of a hat, etc.

So when the girl wanted to do a movie night, a pretty common occurrence around here on weekends, I said no.

Don’t get me wrong. A movie night would have been wonderfully easy. But it hasn’t escaped my attention that screen time doesn’t do much to help the frazzled feelings of a first grader.

So I turned down the idea of movie night. And when the tears started well up, in a stroke of parenting genius (or insanity), I suggested a family game night.

That did the trick.

We put on pajamas and put the toddler to bed. The girl headed downstairs to prepare for game night while I wrapped up a few things. By the time I got down to the family room, she had an elaborate setup including pillows, a balloon, a blanket, gemstone cards, and some spools of ribbon.

“I invented a new game!” she announced.

I’m going to be very honest with you all here. My first reaction was not excitement. You see, the girl has always been very creative. However, invented games often tend to be complex with very fluid rules that can be difficult to keep up with. In the final hour before bedtime on Friday, I wasn’t sure I had the energy.

But I sucked it up and pretended to be excited.

And you know what? It turned out to be great.

The game she made up was actually pretty simple and organized. She got to cut pieces of ribbon, which for some reason she always loves doing. She got to have us follow her creative lead and honor her ideas.

AND we practiced counting and adding. We practiced reading gemstone names and talked about the different kinds of rocks. We refreshed our “safe scissor etiquette” lesson. We practiced taking turns and being flexible.

All those learning opportunities from one game invented by a six year old. I love these parenting moments when I find the energy to follow her creativity and it leads somewhere better than I ever could have.

I’m glad I sucked it up and said yes.

 

 

 

The Struggle to Succeed

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Two days ago I wrote a post about The True Measure of Success, in which I reminded myself to keep my parenting battles in perspective by using my daughter’s happiness as a measure of how well something is working or isn’t working.

That post got me thinking.

What if it isn’t that simple?

I still believe that happiness and joy and love of learning should be the true measure of success. But sometimes it isn’t as simple as happiness in the moment. Without the opportunity to struggle, to learn perseverance, to test their own limits and build their own confidence, children won’t have all the tools they need to pursue true happiness throughout their lives.

If that is the case, me stepping in when I see my daughter struggling isn’t necessarily what’s best for her.

(When I say it out loud like that, I think “DUH”. Of course I can’t step in every time she is struggling with something. She would never learn.)

But even as obvious as that seems, it’s easier said than done, you know? As a parent, we want our kids to be happy. One of the hardest parts of our job is letting our kids struggle and even fail. We have to let them fall down, let them get frustrated, let them make mistakes. It’s how they learn that they can succeed.

What I wasn’t prepared for is the fact that as they grow, so do their struggles. I’m just getting to the point where I can let my toddler take a tumble or struggle to figure out a new toy without stepping in every time. But now the oldest is in first grade. She is learning how to struggle with dynamic friendships. With responsibilities like homework. With reading and math. With rules in class that she doesn’t want to follow.

And she’s doing it on her own. I can’t be there to help or advise or comfort. The best I can do is hold her tight when she gets home, weary from her own battles of figuring out how this big world works and what her place in it all is.

And as she does so, I’m figuring out what my place in supporting her is. How much do I let her struggle and how much do I help?

I’m going back to the homework debate as an example, because it’s something so many of us parents are reading about and wondering about and struggling with right now, due in part to all the hype on social media and the beginning of a new school year. In my previous post I came to the conclusion that perhaps questioning the homework policy for me as a parent wasn’t necessary because my child wasn’t struggling with it (yet).

But what am I teaching my daughter if I support her doing homework until it becomes a struggle for her?  I don’t want to teach her that the response to difficult situations is to remove the challenge. If it is something I believe in, shouldn’t I stand up for it no matter what, regardless of how well she is handling it?

Because there will probably come a time when it does become a struggle. Then what?

Really, it all boils down to an impossible question: how do we know when to let them struggle and when do we stand up for them? How much homework-induced discomfort will teach them perseverance and grit and responsibility? How much of it will damage their love of school, their self-esteem, and their love of learning?

How do we know where the line between benefit and harm is when it comes to struggling? 

It truly is an impossible question because I think it is different for every child. And not just that, I think it changes at different times in a child’s life.

BUT. WHAT IF….

What if the most important question here isn’t how much struggle is the right amount? Maybe we would be better off asking which struggles are worth the struggle instead.

Because here is the real secret: NOT ALL STRUGGLES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

If children are going to struggle, it should be for a purpose, not simply for the sake of struggling.

Sure, she could struggle with the boredom of another math worksheet. Or instead she could struggle to learn to ride her bike. She could struggle with the discomfort of having to do her chores or clean her room. She could challenge herself to read a book that she chooses. Or challenge herself in a swimming or gymnastics class. Or setting the table.

Or perhaps she is challenged all day at school and she just needs a break.

Which one of these things would be best for her whole-self development?

Honestly, it’s probably different every night.

Which is why, as her parent, I’m hesitant to say that struggling with homework is a good thing. Or an evil thing. Some nights it may be exactly the kind of challenge she needs. But what do I do on the other nights? Because I don’t need to let her struggle at homework just for the sake of struggling, especially if her time could be better spent elsewhere. 

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether homework is good or bad. Maybe what matters is that it might not always be the best use of our time in the evenings or the best way to teach responsibility or perseverance.

Surely teaching our children when to stick with the struggle is just as important as teaching them how.

Ironically, it appears I am learning the same thing.

 

 

 

 

The True Measure of Success

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My six year old started 1st grade at a new school this year. In Kindergarten, I knew her teacher. She is one of the most amazing people on the planet, and it made it so much easier to send my first baby off to school because I knew this teacher would fight for what was best for kids. Always. And I knew that we agreed on what that was. I trusted her.

This year we are at a new school with a new teacher. I’ve heard wonderful things about the teacher, the principal and the school. However, I also heard a few things that raised some questions for me as a parent before school even started.

First, the new elementary school only schedules two recesses for 1st graders. Several other elementary schools in the same district have three. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve read a lot of articles lately about the importance of recess, specifically unstructured play in child development. More importantly, I know my own child. I know how much she needs those brief periods of movement and freedom and independence throughout the day. Just like many of the children in the studies I read, her brain functions better when she has that time. So I couldn’t help but wonder why other schools in the same district offered more of that opportunity for children than our new school did.

I asked some questions to try to understand the decision and came to the conclusion that it was best to wait and see how things went.

The second thing I heard was about how much homework would be sent home in 1st grade.

If you’ve been on social media lately you’ve probably seen some hype about homework. As more and more research surfaces proving that there is no academic benefit to homework at the elementary level, more and more parents are speaking up against it.

And I’m right there with them. I’m all for challenging children, but only to the point where it is beneficial. She is six years old and is already in school for the majority of her day. The time at home in the evening is not an extension of school, it is a balance to it. She needs time to recharge her batteries, to play (especially if independent play time is being cut from the school day), to spend time with her family and unwind. That time at home is precious and it’s worth fighting to protect.

But again, I wanted to be reasonable and see how things went before I jumped to conclusions.

School started. On the second day, she brought home math homework.

Sigh.

I know I said I was doing my best to be reasonable. But the truth is that I was already on the defense. I felt like I was just waiting for the evidence I would need to build my case.

I didn’t love that homework was starting so early. However, it was a simple worksheet that she flew through in less than ten minutes. Maybe if that’s all homework was going to be it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe accomplishing something without having to devote a lot of at-home time to it would build her confidence and sense of responsibility and give her a chance to show me how well she was doing. Also, the note that came home about the homework policy talked about one of the goals of homework in 1st grade being to involve parents in the student’s learning. Can I understand that goal? Sure. I appreciate the impulse to include me as a parent in what she is learning.

The homework continued the next week, but each night it was simple. Less than ten minutes. I was still feeling skeptical. Was this really worth sending home? But at the same time, we spend that long talking about school anyway. Is a few minutes of simple homework really hurting anything?

I’m a chronic over-thinker, so I was still feeling conflicted about the homework and recess issues. One evening I was explaining my inner battle to a friend over text message. To be honest, I was probably on the verge of a full-blown rant, when her response stopped me in my tracks.

“Is your daughter unhappy?”

Uh… I don’t think so. She’s not coming home miserable. She hasn’t complained about her homework. In fact, she seems pretty proud once it’s done.

Sigh. There’s nothing like being slapped mid-rant with a really reasonable point.

My first priority as a parent is to help her thrive. In 1st grade, that means making sure that she is enjoying school so that she can develop a lifelong love of learning. Period.

The research isn’t the measure of what’s working and what isn’t. My child is.

If she is happy, what am I fighting for?

I still think recess is more important than we are treating it and that homework should be used consciously and sparingly in elementary school. But ultimately, the goal of any of those battles is to protect her joy. If evidence of unhappiness starts to appear, then perhaps it will be time to pick up my mama warrior armor and defend her right to love learning.

Until then, I’m taking the opportunity to breathe and remind myself not to get so caught up in the battle that I forget what I’m fighting for.

The Right Way to Say No

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My six year old loves helping out with her little sister. One of her favorite things to do is to try to pick her up–either to carry her or to set her up on a chair or something of the sort.

It’s no secret that I err on the side of the overprotective mother. I watch other parents while their kids carry each other around and rough house–things that kids do–and I would love to take a metaphorical chill pill when it came to my own children. But every time I see the oldest pick up the little, I only see her pulling on her arms wrong or setting her up on a chair she shouldn’t be on because she will definitely fall right off or some other form of danger.

Most of the time, my reaction is, “No. Don’t pick her up. Leave her alone.” “No, she can’t be up on that chair.” “No, you can’t pull on her like that.” No, no, no.

My husband also errs on the side of caution, and is probably more cautious than I am. Since we both have this parental trait, I try really hard to be aware of when we are being over-involved so we can work on it. One day I overheard him intervene when the oldest was “helping” with the toddler, but it was for something I probably wouldn’t have worried about. I was making a mental note to bring it up in conversation later, when the revelation hit me.

It’s so hard to see our own behavior sometimes, but it’s often easy to see it in other people. Watching him in that moment was like someone held up a mirror. Suddenly I saw my own behavior from a different perspective.

Deep down in my gut, I knew that it didn’t feel good to tell her “no” all the time when she just wanted to help. But it also didn’t feel good to ignore a situation that my gut told me was dangerous. I felt torn between stepping in and not stepping in.

As it turns out, whether or not to intervene was the wrong question. I was so busy asking myself IF I should say no, that it never occurred to me to question HOW I should say no.

What if, instead of simply telling her no, I showed her a better way?

“No, you can’t pick your sister up by pulling on her arms like that. If you’re going to pick her up, you need to put your hands here.”

“No, she can’t sit in that chair because she might fall down. She can sit in this chair instead if you want to help her over here.”

Or even better,

“She can’t sit in that chair alone. If you put her in that chair, you have to stand beside her to make sure she doesn’t fall out.”

Suddenly, “no” becomes an opportunity for her to learn something. It’s obvious she wants to help. So why wouldn’t I teach her the right way to help rather than just shoeing her away every time she tries?

After all, at some point in her life, I will want her to learn how to take care of little people. Why wouldn’t I teach her now, when she is trying to learn? Wouldn’t it be better to show her she is capable and that I believe in her ability than to make her stop trying? It seems so obvious, and yet, in the middle of the crazy days of parenting, slowing down long enough to take advantage of these moments can feel so hard.

The same lesson carries over to so many situations. This may come as a surprise, but the toddler doesn’t even need the big sister to put her at risk for injury. She is quite good at creating the opportunity for herself. Most of the time, my reaction is to pull her out of the situation immediately.

But when it comes to “risk”, not all situations are created equal. Obviously, if she is in danger of seriousFullSizeRender (5) injury, I will step in. But what if the risk is only a scraped knee or a bump?

Example: we still have her baby walker toy out in the living room corner for moments when I need to contain her for a few minutes. Recently, she has decided that her favorite thing to do is to climb up on top of it and then climb from that over the arm of the couch. It’s probably not the best habit, but what is it really hurting? She’s getting some great gross motor skill practice and all she is risking is a tumble off the couch.

So I let her climb (even though it still raises my blood pressure to watch). Because I’m letting her learn.

The truth is, there isn’t a “right” way to say no. The right thing for me as a parent was to revisit why I say no. And when. And how.

And when I did, I realized that “no” isn’t a discipline tool. It’s a learning tool. So often when kids are doing something dangerous or naughty, it’s because they are trying to learn something. And it’s probably something I want them to learn–strength, balance, compassion.

I can either use “no” to stop them from doing something or to help them to do something.

For me, it’s not a hard choice.


Also, here is an awesome article about the importance of risk in play.

 

How I Made My Daughter Hate Reading

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I made my child hate reading.

No, seriously. This summer we practiced reading, just like we were supposed to in order to keep up her learning from Kindergarten. By the end of the summer, her stance was firmly, “I don’t like reading.”

I don’t I blame her, to be honest with you. Learning to read is hard. It’s frustrating. As an adult, I understand the benefits of perseverance. I know that the outcome of the struggle is the enjoyable part. But she is six. She likes doing things that she is good at that are fun. If it is anything that runs the risk of struggle or failure, she is not interested. She will give up before she even tries.

This is a hard situation to parent in. I might be a weirdo, but I would rather see her try at something than be good at it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see the things that come naturally to her. But my proudest moments are when she struggles and tries and finally succeeds.

So, naturally, when she started to get frustrated with reading and stopped trying, I pushed back and encouraged her to try harder.

Any parent of a strong-willed child can predict what happened next. (Hint: Me telling her to try harder did not make her want to try harder. Shocking, I know.)

Needless to say, I was at a loss for what to do. (And also possibly having a miniature pity party over my failure as a parent.) How will she ever learn perseverance if she gives up before she even tries? How will she develop grit if I let her run every time things get hard? As a parent, isn’t it my job to present her with opportunities to struggle so that she can learn how to handle struggling? Isn’t it my job to push her to grow?

So I decided to pick the brain of one of my wisest friends who is both a parent and a teacher. After explaining the situation, she offered thoughtful feedback: that I should wait to see how school went and focus instead on building my daughter’s confidence when it comes to reading.

Yet, I still didn’t feel satisfied. If I backed off, wasn’t I teaching her that it was okay to quit trying? I wanted to know how to push my daughter to do hard things in a way that she would respond to rather than rebel against. I wanted her to learn perseverance and grit and determination. I just didn’t know how to teach them to her.

It took a while before it occurred to me: maybe I couldn’t.

All summer, we have been working on learning to ride a bike with no training wheels. Up until the reading motivation dilemma, this was the hardest thing I have ever encountered as a parent. Yes, I am serious. On the bike, she is scared for me to let go of her (and honestly I’m scared to let go). Then she is so focused on me not letting go that she won’t pedal or steer (two pretty critical pieces of riding a bike). So we go around and around and never seem to make any progress. She can tell when I get frustrated and then she wants to quit.

After one particularly frustrating lesson, I had the realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to teach her this skill. Her step dad is infinitely more patient and encouraging than I am. Maybe he would help her build her confidence. Maybe he would be able to let go when the time came.

I’m not sure if it’s that I tend to err on the side of being a control freak, or if it was the time I spent as a single parent that made me feel like I was responsible for teaching her because if I didn’t do it no one else would. But somehow, it felt shocking to me to admit that someone else could teach her something better than I could. I mean, I’m her mom, you know? This is my responsibility.

But now I wasn’t so sure.

What I was sure of was this: me pushing her wasn’t working. It didn’t feel right to stop pushing because I didn’t want her to quit trying. But the more I pushed, the more she wanted to quit trying. I was stuck.

Thankfully, not for long.

As it turns out, my friend’s advice was exactly what I had needed to hear, even if I didn’t hear it at first. “It’s different at home than at school. You are mom. It will be different with teacher,” she said.

She spelled it out for me and I still didn’t get it because I was so focused on figuring out how to do it myself. It hadn’t occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the right person to deliver this lesson.

Or, more importantly, maybe I wasn’t the only person necessary for delivering this lesson.

The truth is, learning perseverance is a complicated lesson that requires challenge, motivation, encouragement, and celebration. I had been trying to play every role for her. No wonder it wasn’t working.

My friend helped me to understand that I don’t need to play every role. There will always be opportunities in her life to face things that feel difficult and frustrating. There will always be people and situations that challenge her. School is a great place for her to be challenged.

And it’s also a great place for her to find motivation. Her teacher will push her. Competition with peers will push her. Her own drive for independence and learning will push her. I don’t need to provide her motivation.

I just need to encourage her to find it.

That’s really the key, isn’t it? Perhaps the the most important role for me to play as a parent is simply that of cheerleader. I had gotten so caught up in figuring out how to push her that it didn’t occur to me she might need something else from me instead.

The other key piece of advice my wise friend offered was this: observe her and learn what is working and what isn’t. It wasn’t hard to do. When I pushed her, she deflated. When I encouraged and celebrated her, she blossomed. It doesn’t get more obvious than that.

Life is full of chances to do hard things. We could all benefit from having someone in our corner.

From now on, I will be in hers.


Update:

After writing this, I found this awesome post by another mom/teacher who has a similar experience. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“And sometimes we have to let others, like tour guides, do the teaching. I struggle to give feedback on thesis statements on my daughters’ work, something I do every week in my college classroom. When my kids bring me an essay to proofread, they may well up in tears if I mention a missing comma. Uncle Peter, though, taught them how to ride bikes in less than five minutes on a family vacation. My husband had failed at the task for more than a year. As their mom, I have to wait for the questions rather than begin with answers. It’s difficult to teach my kids because even constructive critique threatens our bond. At home, I lack the luxury of professional distance.”

As their mom, I have to wait for the questions rather than begin with answers. Even constructive critique threatens our bond. I love this so much.

Click here to read the full post.

7 Things I Want My Child to Know Before She Starts School

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For seven years I worked with some of the most amazing educators I’ve ever met—teachers, principals, paraeducators, professional development specialists, secretaries, school psychologists, and technology gurus. People who devote their lives to the task of giving young people today the academic tools they need to succeed in the world.

That job experience not only changed my perspective on my own life, it changed my perspective as a parent, especially when it comes to my child’s learning.

With this new perspective, there are some things I want my child to know as she heads off to school each year.

You can learn anything if you believe you can.

Everyone has a learning “mindset”.  A “growth mindset” means you believe that your brain can learn and grow. A “fixed mindset” means you believe that you are born with a certain level of intelligence and you can’t change it. For example, if you are a growth mindset, you believe that, even if you are not good at math, you can get better. If you are a fixed mindset, you believe that you’ll always be bad at math.

Research shows that some of the people who excel at what they do–professional athletes, authors, scientists–do so because they have a growth mindset. That means they might not have been very good at what they did when they started, but they knew if they worked hard they would get better. So they did.

You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Don’t forget that.

The most important thing you will take to school with you is a good attitude.

You get to choose how you “show up” at school each day. No one else can make this choice for you. You may not always get to choose everything about your school day, but you can always choose your attitude. You have the power to make assignments that might be boring be fun. You have the power to make classes that feel hard feel exciting instead. It all comes down to your attitude. Choose wisely.

You can do hard things.

Sometimes learning will feel easy. A lot of the time it might feel really hard. That is perfectly normal. Don’t give up just because something isn’t easy at first. Learning how to do hard things is one of the greatest skills you could ever acquire.

I will be happy as long as you are doing your best.

Please don’t cheat yourself out of learning by not trying. If you are going to do something, do your best. If you do this, you cannot fail. Because if you did your best, then you learned something, and that is never failure. Yep, you heard me right. If you do your best on a test and you fail, I will still be proud of you for giving it your all. And we will have learned what it is that you still need to study. If you don’t try and you fail, then you wasted your own time and energy. Don’t do that. Time is precious. You owe it to yourself to see what you are capable of. So do everything you do with your whole heart. If you do this, I will be happy.

School does not measure your worth.

In school, you will take tests. Tests are a way to measure what you know and what you still need to learn. THAT IS ALL THEY ARE. You should do your best when it comes to tests so that they can be an accurate measure of what you know. But never forget that that is all they are. They do not measure what a good learner you are. They do not measure what a good person you are. Don’t give them more power than they deserve.

The same is true of grades. Grades are a way of measuring progress. They show us what we are doing well at and what we still need to practice. If you have a lower grade in science, it does not mean you are bad at science. Grades are information we can use to learn about how we learn best.

Schools use tests and grades and levels and scores to measure a lot of things. But there are also a lot of things they don’t measure. Tests will not measure your passion or your drive or your determination. Grades do not reflect what a kind and thoughtful person you are. Don’t believe for a second that any letter or number could measure your worth. You are more than the sum of your scores.

Your curiosity is your greatest strength.

Your curiosity is what drives your best learning. It drives you to question things you don’t understand. I hope you always keep your fierce curiosity. It is when we stop being curious and think we “know” things, or when we simply give up and stop asking questions, that we stop learning and growing.

Others may not always appreciate your curiosity, but don’t let that stop you. You may have to learn to hold your curiosity until an appropriate time to seek your answers. You may have to learn a respectful way to express your curiosity. But beware of anyone who tells you your curiosity is bad. It’s not true.

The thing that will make me more proud of you than anything else is your kindness.

School is important. You will learn things that will open doors to more things and more doors and so on. But there is so much more to learn than science and math. If you graduate and you don’t know algebra but you have learned how to feel empathy for another person, I will be immensely proud. If you can’t remember what the scientific name for rain clouds is, but you know how to be kind to others, even when they aren’t kind to you, then I will know you have succeeded.

Learn as much as you can from school, but don’t limit your learning to the information in your textbooks. Because the things that matter in life are so much bigger than that. Let your sweet light shine and do all the good you can for the people around you. As your mother, I love to see your brilliant brain in action. But I am never more proud of you than when you show the world your kind heart.

Why I Blog

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What good does blogging do in the world? Does the world really need one more mommy blogger? These days the Internet machine is full of people sharing their opinions and experiences on blogs. It can be overwhelming to try to read and keep up with it all. Do I really want to join an already crowded parade where my words are just a drop in an ocean?

Plus, I’m no expert. I mostly blog about things I DON’T know about (which in the ever-shifting land of parenting feels like most things). So why should anyone read my stuff? And am I even ready to put myself out there like that? In case you haven’t notice, the Internet can be a little harsh sometimes. Why set myself up to get rejected by bigger sites and picked on by trolls?

Honestly, sometimes I’m not sure. All the arguments against blogging that I just listed feel like really compelling arguments to me.

But here I am anyway.

Because the truth is, I love to write.

I write because it challenges me to think and to grow. It challenges me to keep learning, about everything from new websites to how hosting/domain names work. It helps me to look at the world more carefully, to appreciate experiences more intensely. It exposes me to other perspectives and opinions.

I love writing because it helps me know myself. I love staying at home with my kids, but anyone who’s ever done it knows it can be isolating. I love my mama friends and our playdates, but it can be hard to make meaningful connections when the kids are asking for snacks and the toddler is waking up from nap. In my writing, I get to share my own authentic uninterrupted self.

I write because I suck at scrapbooking and journaling. I love the idea of leaving a piece of myself and of my family for my children to see–a real authentic piece that is honest about who I am both as a mother and in addition to being a mother. I love the idea that they can one day look back on our family memories from my point of view and maybe know who their mom is on a deeper level.

I write because I care, damnit. I care about the world I live in and I care about the world my children will grow up in. I want it to be a better place, a more loving place. I want it to be a place where we appreciate people for who they are rather than trying to turn them into something else. I want it to be a place where we cultivate healthy relationships with feelings, with boundaries, with relationship and friendships from an early age. I want it to be a place where education inspires curiosity and authenticity and growth rather than simply being a place to sit still and memorize because that’s what we’ve always done. So I write about these things. My voice may be small but I speak up because I care.

I write because it means I connect. When others read my work and agree, we connect. When others read my work and disagree, we still connect. The more I write, the more people I find that I connect with. I see other writers who encourage and support each other. I see people writing about the same stuff as I do. I see people writing different opinions and it makes me stop and think. I write because it’s my gateway to this amazing community of people who are writing because they care and so they speak up. They share recipes because they care about nourishment, nutrition, health, family. They share stories because they care about legacy and love and spreading hope. They share beliefs because they care about people, about the world.

I write because it reminds me I’m human. Not everything I write is going to be great or even good. Some posts turn out to be massive failures. Sometimes I look back on what I wrote a year ago and I wonder what the heck I was thinking. I don’t write with the intention of creating a masterpiece. I write with the intention of always growing and getting better. I got a lot of silent rejections when I first started sending out my work to be published. But instead of letting it defeat me, I tried to let it make me stronger.

I write because it reminds me to let go. Once I put something out into the world, it’s not really mine anymore. People will take it and do with it what they will. People might love my work and share it or they might hate it and bash it. They might read the first line and form their opinion without ever even reading it all. And that’s ok. It’s a hard reality but at its core, there is a valuable lesson about love.

I write because right now, it’s what I have to offer. There will always be reasons not to do something creative, something scary, something new, something that feels meaningful or something that you fear is meaningless.

But at the end of the day, those reasons start to sound a little hollow.

This week a young man who played football for the Huskers died in a car accident. A fellow writer responded with an article titled, “We Don’t Get to Decide When We Play Our Last Game”. And my first thought was, at least he had the courage to play the game in the first place.

We change the world by having the courage to do what we feel called to do, even if there are a million reasons not to. I don’t want it to be fear that keeps me out of the game.

Authenticity and Being Present

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Every experience you have changes you. Sometimes they are big, sweeping, overwhelming, sudden changes. Sometimes they are slight, unnoticeable. But even the slight and unnoticeable compound over time.

That means we are constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. We are constantly becoming someone else. Therefore, true authenticity requires presence.

What does it mean to be present with yourself? It means being able to listen to your feelings and your thoughts. To truly listen requires curiosity; the desire to seek and see. It means not assuming. It means not “knowing”. It means listening and accepting what you find.

I think it’s hard to be present with yourself, to stop to listen to your true self at each opportunity and then be open to what you find. It’s hard and then it’s easy. It takes practice and then it becomes habit. A habit worth creating.

When my oldest daughter was born, it quickly became obvious to me that I could never be a stay at home mom. When my second came along, I was aware how fleeting time was and how precious these moments were. I had changed and what I wanted was different. Rather than assume that my original feeling was “who I was”, I stopped to check in and found a different answer.

There’s a second layer to this challenge: finding people who can stay present with you. We like to think we “know” people. It’s comforting. Sometimes we take comfort in thinking we know someone better than they know themselves. It’s not easy to think about people in our lives changing and becoming someone different. We often assume such changes are negative and will take people away from us.

But the truth is, people are always changing whether we want to see it or not. In truth, the friend you had yesterday is someone different today. Even if the change is so small it isn’t noticeable.

Do you surround yourself with people who stay present with you? It is always fascinating to me to meet someone I haven’t seen in a while and consider who I was back when they knew me… to think that the person they think they are interacting with no longer exists. Even more dangerous are the people who see us every day. When we see someone every day, it’s easy to believe we know them and it’s too hard to see the little changes that build up over time.

And on a similar note, do you stay present with those around you by accepting their present authenticity? Or do you assume you already “know” them?

And perhaps most importantly of all, how does this affect how you interact with your children?

It is easier to assume we know ourself and others, but the truth is, the “self” is like a landscape: it is constantly being changed. Sometimes drastically by a tornado. Sometimes slowly like the growth of a blade of grass. But always changing.

It is only when we are aware of that change and curious about its impact, both in ourself and others, that we can truly embrace our own authenticity and that of others.

The Real Truth

 

Years ago while working in education, when I first began planning curriculum/activities for students and teachers, I had a revelation. We always had a “goal” or an intention we would use a teaching strategy to accomplish. A basic example would be to have children repeat something in order to remember it.

At the same time, we were skirting the edges of the educational reform movement, questioning the status quo and tearing down old assumptions about the way things had to be done. Our goal was to help students become self-directed learners, so they could take charge of and responsibility for their own learning. Naturally, one of the first questions to address was how to motivate students.

Sometimes repeating and remembering information can be quite dull. It’s not necessarily something children love to do naturally, so we looked for ways to make it fun. One day, in an idea brainstorm during which we were trying to come up with strategies to “use” on the kids, I thought, “What is stopping us from just letting them in on the process?” If we explain that we repeat things to help us remember, they will learn something about how their brain works and they will understand WHY we are doing something. It’s my belief that people should always understand why they are doing something. Always.

I wanted teaching to stop being something we do TO them and become something we do WITH THEM. It wasn’t necessarily a revolutionary idea to the more experienced teachers around me. But it was to me.

And the revelation stuck with me and carried over into other parts of my life.

The other day, I had a friend who had been in a confusing situation. I’m a pretty passionate person, so it doesn’t take much to get me fired up. I ended up doing more ranting and sharing of my opinions than listening and supporting. Afterward, I felt crummy about it.

I was thinking through how I could be better. And then it occurred to me: why not just be open about the process of trying to be better?  Instead of waiting to be a finished product, why not just be a work in progress? After all, friendship is something we do together.

So I sent her a message and explained that I felt like I hadn’t listened as well as I thought she deserved and that I didn’t feel good about it and that I was working to be a better friend. Because I valued her friendship and I wanted to be kinder, more respectful, better in the friendship.

Sometimes I feel like we do too much “manipulating” each other. We want others to see us a certain way, we want others to believe something or do something or change. We want to teach people something so we strategize about how to say it and how to present our case.

But there’s such relief in just saying clearly, “This is what I want to do but this is where I’m at.” I want to be a good friend but I didn’t feel like I succeeded just there. I want to be a good mom, but I feel like I lost my temper and I wish I hadn’t. I’m trying to be more patient. I want to teach you how to do this but I’m not sure what the best way to do that so you can learn it is. I want to be a good boss, but I don’t know how to handle this situation.

Or when I’m in an uncomfortable situation, saying, “I’m not sure what to do here. I’ve never been in this situation.” When I don’t know how to help, saying, “I want to help but I’m just not sure what to do.”

Really, it just comes down to saying my truth.

Because I think we all feel a little awkward and vulnerable sometimes. As teachers, as parents, as friends, as family members or coworkers or neighbors. We all have situations where we could choose to be a little more transparent, a little more human with each other. Where, instead of digging for the “right” thing to say, or worse, saying nothing at all, we could simply say the real thing.